How to remove spray paint and graffiti from your car

How to remove spray paint and graffiti from your car

Here’s the 2 common methods that could cause damage, and a practice we recommend.


You’ve probably heard stories of cars vandalized from spray paint…

Unfortunately, those incidents are rife in the USA. And with over 290 million cars in the country, there’s definitely a wealth of targets for vandals to consider!

But even if your car isn’t targeted, it’s definitely within your best interest to know how to remove spray paint from your vehicle, without further damaging your car.

This is because you may…

  • Accidentally get spray paint on your car due to various reasons,
  • You may use incorrect spray paint – not safe for vehicles,
  • Or you may not like the color you used.

Whatever the reason, you need to know how to remove the paint in the safest possible way.

Because, believe it or not, it’s not as simple as a quick Google search to get your best answer. It takes a little more research than that.

There are good and not-so-good ways. Then there’s the safest and most-effective way (at the end) that we preach.

So, before you jump straight into it and (possibly) cause costly damage, here are the common practices you should avoid, try, and a method we recommend.


Before I get going, I just need to let you know that, while sufficient research has been done, including speaking to industry experts, WiiSpray isn’t responsible for any damage that occurs to your car using any of the methods shared below.

And you may already be aware, but keep in mind that it is harder to remove paint from trim pieces and plastic parts, compared to the body.

Also, test your method on an inconspicuous, unnoticeable area, first. If your original coating gets damaged, avoid applying that strategy.


What that said, let’s begin with…

The 2 common methods

It’s widely known that the most commonly used practices for removing spray paint or graffiti are solvent and mechanical.

Well, what are solvent and mechanical methods?

To put it briefly, mechanical methods for removing spray paint require a lot of physical effort. The aim is to mechanically remove the graffiti, by scrubbing. It is generally more abrasive, and more likely to damage your factory coating.

Solvent methods, however, don’t require a lot of scrubbing. Using a little force, your goal is to gently rub the solvent into the spray paint, so the graffiti absorbs the solvent liquid.

For this reason, solvents are less likely to damage your factory coating. And it’s in your best interest to try a solvent, first, out of these two options.

So, to get you going, here are examples of solvent paint removers…

Isopropyl alcohol

While the least intrusive and aggressive, it’s the best starting point.

You may get most (even all) of the spray paint off, while leaving VERY little chance of causing any damage to the original paint.

The steps to take:

  1. Only apply the alcohol directly onto the cloth. Do not apply it to your vehicle.
  2. Gently rub the spray painted area with the cloth.
  3. Try not to deviate onto the original coating.
  4. The goal isn’t to rub it off with the alcohol, but to let the spray paint absorb the alcohol.
  5. Gradually, the spray paint will start to dissolve once it absorbs the alcohol.

As a word of warning, the reason we advise to avoid putting the alcohol directly onto your car, instead of the cloth, is to prevent it dripping down and damaging the good paint.

Another popular solvent is…

Paint thinner

Now, this is more aggressive compared to isopropyl alcohol, meaning it is more likely to cause damage.

But, if you still find that there are bits of spray paint left on the car, and you’ve tried your best with alcohol, then it’s time to give this a go.

Again, you should first apply the thinner to the cloth, not the car. Then, rub an area that isn’t easily noticeable to see if it will damage the paint.

Give it a good 5-seconds of rubbing, and if the paint on your car changes color (likely yellow), or gets damaged in any way, then it’s advisable not to use a paint thinner.

If the paint thinner doesn’t damage the factory paint, then you’re good to go.

It’ll be a much more effective method compared to isopropyl alcohol, using up less of your time and effort.

Other examples of solvent methods

Ethyl acetate this can be found in some nail polish remover, and is considered safer than acetone-based nail polish removers.

Be careful, though, as ethyl acetate can still damage the original coating, since it doesn’t distinguish from factory paint and graffiti.

Toluene This is a pretty strong solvent method, often used as a degreaser. If used too carelessly, it can cause significant damage to your original coating.

You can find all the above solvents, with many more and their respective information, right here.

4 methods we advise against

1) Acetone

Although this will be extremely effective in removing the spray paint on your vehicle, it will likely destroy the original coating.

Caution: If left on for (at least) 30 minutes, it will remove the factory paint.

2) Nail polish

Typically, nail polish is a diluted form of acetone. This means it still holds the ability to remove the original factory paint.

Although it is not as strong as regular acetone, you need to be wary of the possibility that it can still damage the original coating.

3) Gas

Gasses, such as gasoline, diesel, or petrol can cause long-lasting, or permanent damage to the paint work on your car.

If either of these come into contact with your vehicle for an extended period, it can cause the paint to peel.

4) WD40

There are plenty of blogs out there that argue different outcomes when it comes to using WD40 to remove spray paint.

Some say it could damage your original coat. Others say it’s perfectly fine. Nevertheless, it is also considered a “maybe” in terms of removing spray paint.

So our suggestions would be to prevent the possibility of further damage, and choose the safest and most effective route, which is…

What we recommend

1) The first thing you want to do is use a pressure washer to remove dirt and other particles.

Be careful, though. You don’t want to exceed 2300 psi.

This is an easy way to remove the looser dirt without having to rub the original coating with a towel.

If you don’t have a pressure washer, no problem. You can start by giving the car a gentle rinse with a bucket of soapy water, before moving on to step 2…

2) Second, you want to grab yourself a microfiber cloth and soapy water.

Proceed to clean your car as normal. But remember not to rub too harshly.

For best results, use a microfiber cloth that has longer fingers. This will trap more dirt deeper into the cloth, preventing the particles from scratching the surface of the car.

3) Thirdly, it’s time to apply a little elbow grease.

But don’t let this put you off. This is the safest way to remove all the spray paint.

What you’ll need is a clay bar or carnauba wax or if you’ve even better! 

3.a) Clary bars

 Typically, these are known as detailing clay bars, but you can buy them at most automotive shops, referred to as ‘Clay Kits’.

And in addition to the wax, you’ll need a lubricant. Typically, a supplied detailer is what you’ll be looking for or you can simply spray down a soapy water solution.

Step 1: spray the detailer onto the spray painted area.
Step 2: carefully rub the clay over the area, without applying too much pressure.
Step 3: After a few swirls you should see the spray paint coming off. 
Step 4: Once you notice the clay bar surface is all dirty, just fold the clay bar and flatten it out. 
Step 5: Repeat the process till all the marks are gone. 

The goal here is to let the clay matter collect the spray paint, and not attempt to rub it off with too much force.

3.b) Carnauba wax

Carnauba wax is a popular automotive wax that has been in use for decades. For the uninitiated, a wax is used to bring a glistening, brand-new look to your vehicle along with providing a thin layer of paint protection.

While I can’t say about the other wax brands, I’ve personally seen my local automotive shop using the Carnauba wax to remove the spray paint marks. Take a generous amount of the wax onto the microfiber cloth and, in a circular motion, rub it against the sprayed area. Usually, after a couple of swirls, you should see the spray paint coming off.

Carnauba wax would most likely not be able to remove all the spray paint marks. It’s a good idea to use a clay bar after using the Carnauba wax to remove any trace of spray paint.

4) [If nothing works] Try any commercial spray paint remover

Many off-the-shelf commercial spray paint removers are available, but not much can be said about how gentle they would be on your car’s original paint coat unless you try them.

Using a commercial spray paint remover, with caution, apply it lightly to the spray painted areas.

It’s also advised to try to avoid all plastic parts. Spray paint remover can cause permanent damage to any plastic on your car.


And there you have it, the do’s, the don’ts and the maybe’s when it comes to removing any graffiti from your car.

But, just to touch base, let’s briefly run through the steps you should take…

  1. Try to avoid things like acetone, nail polish, gasses, and WD40.
  2. The safest solvent to use is isopropyl alcohol. And if that becomes a struggle, move on to paint thinner. Remember to apply either to a cloth, first, then gently rub onto the body work. Do not apply directly onto the car.
  3. The method we recommend you should take is the most effective, yet least likely to cause damage.

    Start with a pressure washer – if you have one. If not, rinse your car with a hose pipe, or buckets of water.

    Following that, proceed with a soapy clean. Try to find a long-finger microfiber cloth to capture most of the dirt and prevent scratching.

    Rinse away all the soap and dirt. Then, grab yourself a clay bar and detailer.

    Spray the detailer onto the area’s with graffiti, and gently rub with the clay bar to capture the unwanted paint.

    Once you’ve captured most (if not all) of the spray paint, move onto the commercial graffiti remover, and avoid getting it on any plastic.

Then hey, presto, you’re done!

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